RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. - An equine influenza outbreak has hit Riverside County and at least 12 burros have died to the virus, officials announced Friday. Authorities said they expect the burro death toll to rise.
Health officials said the virus is very contagious and is specific to horses, mules and donkeys.
According to the Riverside County Department of Animal Services, the virus "spreads rapidly through groups of horses in aerosolized droplets dispersed by coughing or through fomite transmission."
The department said the first known deaths occurred on the week of Oct. 12 and the majority of deaths have occurred in the Reche Canyon area.
(Riverside County Department of Animal Services)
The other burro deaths occurred within the Moreno Valley area in the foothills along Pigeon Pass Road, Hancock Street and Redlands Boulevard.
Horse owners are being asked to check with their veterinarians and are encouraged to get booster vaccines for their pets.
Signs of the virus include respiratory issues, fever, edema, and enlarged lymph nodes.
The public is being asked to avoid contact with burros, especially residents who own horses.
Emily Nietzeba, an equine specialist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture said humans cannot contract the disease but can act as fomites and transmit the virus between horses.
Horse owners are asked to avoid traveling with their animals if they believe they may have been exposed and should avoid having other horses come to their properties to avoid indirect transmission.
The virus has not been reported in nearby San Bernardino County.